The City of Sioux Falls has provided support for nonprofit arts and cultural organizations for decades. It was instrumental in the development of the Washington Pavilion, and continues to own the facility while leasing it to a nonprofit corporation that operates its performing, visual arts and science center. It owns the Orpheum Theatre, home of the Sioux Falls Premiere Community Theatre.
Since the formation of Sculpturewalk in 2006, an annual curated exhibit of sculptures in the downtown area, the City has purchased the People’s Choice Award annually adding it its permanent collection. Public art has been supported in City parks, most notably the statues of David and Martin Luther King, Jr. overseen by the City’s Visual Arts Commission. There is a history of city support for cultural plans and facilities throughout the years. Organizations like The Sioux Falls Community Band, the Sioux Falls Arts Council, the Levitt Pavilion, Scultpurewalk and the newly renovated State Theatre have benefitted from city dollars. The City’s Mayor and administration and City Council have shown a commitment to the growth of Sioux Falls as a cultural center.
This is all terrific, so what’s missing? What’s missing is the expertise on city staff to set consistent policies and procedures as well as understand the financial sustainability of organizations or facilities in which the City invests. These arts specialists are common in thousands of cities in America but not so common here in South Dakota. Sioux Falls has been supportive and invested millions without the benefit of policies and procedures created by professional arts staff who are educated and experienced in dealing with arts programs and nonprofit organizations. This is tantamount to building bridges without engineers or building homes without architects.
In 2019, a group of arts advocates met with Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken. The discussion centered on the role of the City of Sioux Falls in the maintenance and growth of arts and culture for residents and visitors. The group identified a need to explore a mechanism by which the City and the Mayor can more efficiently interface with community needs as it pertains to arts and culture. It was acknowledged that the City has become a cultural center for the region, the arts were a vital economic contributor to the City and that the City currently invests millions of dollars on arts and culture. These investments are often done without an official process or expert oversight to assure accountability and need. At this meeting, the Mayor felt it important to have a citizen’s task force explore the need and options and make a recommendation to him for future action by the City Council.
A task force was created to investigate a mechanism by which the City and the Mayor could more effectively and efficiently interface with community needs as it pertains to arts and culture. The 12-member task force was chaired by past SD State Senator and Minnehaha County Commissioner Tom Dempster and facilitated by Janet Brown. The task force met in February of 2020 with presentations from Sioux Falls arts organizations and artists. In March of 2020, the task force in-person meetings were postponed due to the COVID virus.
By June, 2020, the task force had studied comparable cities with active arts commissions and professional arts staff. A task force unanimously recommended the following to the Mayor:
- The City establish an “office of the arts” or “city arts commission” (name to be determined) within City government, with an appointed citizen’s advisory commission.
- The City would hire at least one full-time administrator for this office with experience and an understanding and connections to the nonprofit arts sector and multiple artforms.
- The Mayor would provide this new “office” or “commission” with a budget to begin planning and implementing for a successful future.
Task Force strongly recommended that this commission, with staff and a budget be empowered and funded to do the following:
- Establish policies and procedures for interactions between the City and the arts community,
- Provide services and support mechanisms including a grants program for artists and arts groups
- Utilize the 2014 Sioux Falls Imagined – A Cultural Plan as a guide for future programming and policies.
Task Force members are very aware of the fact that when they began this discussion in January-February of 2020, there was a bright light of prosperity with entertainment tax revenues and continued growth of the City budget. With the onset of Covid-19, this scenario changed as the City struggled with revenue issues and added expenses. However, in 2022, Mayor TenHaken included an arts specialist in his proposed 2023 budget. In September, the City Council removed the item from the approved budget but passed a resolution to seek more information and discuss this issue in January of 2023.
Sioux Falls is growing at historical rates. Ethnic and cultural demographics have changed notably in the past fifteen years. Young people seek the excitement of night life which includes concerts, plays, locally owned restaurants and breweries, public art that stimulates foot traffic downtown, and small music and theatre venues. Taxpayers deserve expertise within the city that their investments are part of larger sustainable plans. Arts advocates will continue to support this concept which will be readdressed in early 2023 by the Mayor and City Council.
The City’s leadership is critical in partnering with creative industries and individuals, setting consistent policies and procedures for arts support and making sure all citizens have access to participate in the City’s cultural activities. The time has come for the City of Sioux Falls to move from arbitrary cultural decisions to institutionalized growth. An arts specialist on staff is the first step.
Janet Brown is past President/CEO of Grantmakers in the Arts, a national association of foundations and government agencies that make grants to artists and arts organizations. She is past Executive Director of South Dakotans for the Arts and Chair of the Performing and Visual Arts Departments at Augustana College. She has taught Public Policy in the Arts in two masters programs for over 18 years. Janet is a native of Dell Rapids and graduated from the University of South Dakota with a Bachelor in Fine Arts in Theatre and Masters in Public Administration.